Friday, July 15, 2011

What's the story?

Hogwart's Express?
I am a huge fan of J. K. Rowling's work. She is a fantastic writer who has introduced a new generation to the magic of reading through her Harry Potter series. My guess is that she was also an excellent teacher. While I have never seen her teach in a classroom, I believe effective teachers are essentially storytellers.

First, there is Ms. Rowling's phenomenal ability at writing backstory. This is the part of the narrative that provides background supporting a better understanding of story. She flawlessly weaves this information throughout her writing. It is akin to what effective teachers do when they help learners to activate schema during a lesson - providing a firm foundation on which to construct new ideas. The ability to make connections is fundamental to teaching and learning.

Could this hat do more than sort?
Foreshadowing is the literary device used by authors to provide readers a subtle peek at future plot points. Again, here Ms. Rowling is a master. Once I was aware that her books included clues about the upcoming story, I began reading (and rereading) the text even more deeply. Imagine teaching a lesson that has learners engaged with every moment because it has purpose - they don't want to miss something important that they can use in later learning. I see this as being related to Cambourne's ideas of engagement and immersion.

Another thing I like about the Harry Potter series is that there doesn't seem to be any wasted effort. The story always moved forward. And while there were times that we were introduced to characters, settings, or events that seemed superfluous, they almost always ended up playing an important part in the resolution of the story. This reminds me of what I have read so far in Mike Schmoker's book, Focus. In order to be effective, teaching needs to maintain momentum toward a clear set of manageable goals.

This car plays a part in several books
Certainly, storytelling is not the only simile that can apply to effective teaching. It just seems fitting to explore it the day the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is released in US theaters. Maybe I'll write my "teaching is like kayaking" post after my next trip to the UP. It is the rationale supporting the simile that is most important - that is where we find the characteristics of effective teaching.

(If you want more evidence of Ms. Rowling as an effective teacher, then consider her 2008 graduation speech at Harvard and her characterization of effective teachers in her writing.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this story about teaching. Your teaching-as-analogy premise--whether comparing to storytelling or to kayaking--shows the power of metaphor in learning, a literary device that all great storytellers--and teachers--use to connect new ideas to something familiar.